Smart DNS and VPN are two excellent choices for unlocking restricted content on media streaming services such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, or Hulu. But there is a clear winner, and it may surprise you.
In this article, we are tackling the topic of Smart DNS vs VPN to find out which has the upper hand when it comes to accessing websites that are generally not available in your region. It all amounts to speedy and reliable Internet connections – two necessary ingredients for a successful and enjoyable streaming experience.
Take a look at the topics to see what you are getting yourself into (click to jump):
- Smart DNS
- Combining Smart DNS and VPN
- Smart DNS vs VPN: Who is the winner
Smart DNS is a technology designed to help you unlock content that is unavailable due to geographical restrictions. It hides your real geo-location and tricks streaming sites into thinking that you are trying to access their services from a valid country. For instance, if you are living in France and want to access BBC iPlayer or the US library of Netflix, you can turn to a Smart DNS service to connect to the UK or the USA, respectively.
Introduced in 2012 as a response to Netflix blocks, Smart DNS acts as an Internet circumvention tool. The tech has a growing popularity among users who wish to explore streaming video and media service indiscriminately: without hitting dead-ends tied to geo-restrictions.
How it works
Smart DNS meddles with your DNS queries, wiring your exact IP address to a fake server and making it appear to come from another country. For instance, if it routed your IP address from France to the UK, then third parties like streaming websites or torrent trackers will still be able to see your real IP address but that you are trying to connect from the UK, not France.
Therefore, you will be able to access content that is restricted to the UK but inaccessible to France, like BBC iPlayer. Similarly, you can connect to any part of the world to get exclusive content (like video games).
Smart DNS is easy to configure and supports many devices, including desktop, smartphone, tablet, PlayStation, Xbox, and Smart TV. It can also be installed at the router level to provide Smart DNS features to all devices connected to the router.
DNS vs Smart DNS
Before proceeding further, it is crucial to set apart Smart DNS from regular DNS to understand why Smart DNS technology is superior when it comes to accessing streaming services.
The DNS (Domain Name System) represents a hierarchical naming system that Internet providers use to associate various info with domain names. It acts as the Internet’s phone book. For example, if you want to access Google, you would have to enter the https://www.google.com/ domain name in the address bar. But the domain name is merely a mechanism to help you remember website addresses.
Google’s IP address is 126.96.36.199, and the website can also be accessed by directly entering 188.8.131.52 in the address bar. However, this sequence of numbers would be difficult to remember. It is where DNS intervenes. Its purpose is to guide you to the correct IP addresses associated with the domain names you entered when browsing the Internet.
Changing your DNS resolver is a solution for improving browsing speed when it comes to loading pages and getting immediate access to pages without redirection. Also, it can enhance your security since default DNS configurations are susceptible to DNS cache poisoning and DDoS attacks. You can choose from many public and secure DNS servers, like Google Public DNS, OpenDNS, and Cloudflare. But regular DNS cannot spoof your location.
Differences between DNS and SmartDNS
A DNS resolver applies settings to the entire operating system, thus to all web-enabled applications on your computer. If you connect to a new country, then all apps with Internet access will distribute the new region. Likewise, all visited websites receive the same info associated with your IP address.
On the other hand, Smart DNS carefully filters visited websites and broadcasts the new country only when necessary, like when you are heading to Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu. At the same time, it retains your precise identification details for other, harmless services. For example, you will still be able to use Google Maps or Waze without spoofing your location.
Further, the Smart DNS provider automatically matches you to a valid location when you are connecting to a website. If you were using public DNS, you would have to manually explore DNS options until finding a suitable one that gets past streaming blocks.
The advantages of using Smart DNS
- Spoofs your location without hiding your IP address.
- Automatically unlocks websites so that you do not have to explore multiple options to find the right fit, like connecting to several VPN servers until you find an IP address that is not blocked by your favorite streaming service.
- Lets you use your real location on any sites excluded from the scope of Smart DNS, like maps and navigation services.
- Because it does not encrypt traffic like VPN tools, Smart DNS delivers superior streaming speed.
- Easy to set up – register with a Smart DNS provider and then use their DNS settings as your preferred and alternate DNS address. You do not have to manually connect to the Smart DNS every time you start a browsing session or when you turn on your device.
- Not necessary to install any software to make Smart DNS operational (you have to configure built-in DNS settings).
- Can be used on any device and operating system that supports custom DNS, including Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, iOS, Chromebook, Chromecast, FireTV, Apple TV, Samsung TV, Xbox, PlayStation, and routers.
- There is a lower risk of triggering the Netflix proxy error because the site is preoccupied with VPN services.
- In general, you can purchase a Smart DNS subscription at about half the price of a VPN service.
The disadvantages of using Smart DNS
- Does not hide your IP address, which means your identity can still be discovered.
- Does not encrypt your Internet traffic, so your ISP and the visited websites can see what you are doing online.
- Having an exposed IP address and running unencrypted traffic means that all your online activity can still be traced back to you.
- Cannot be used for anything else besides unlocking geo-restricted content (definitely not recommended for torrenting copyright material because your IP address would be exposed).
- It is impossible to get access to all restricted streaming sites and the extensive Netflix libraries since it depends on the services and channels supported by the Smart DNS provider.
- Cannot prevent your ISP from throttling your bandwidth if it notices you are using it for streaming (requires encryption).
- You must return to your device’s integrated DNS configuration every time you want to toggle the SmartDNS.
When it comes to Smart DNS vs VPN, a VPN application has many more features. Besides spoofing your location, it can also hide your IP address and replace it with a new one. While Smart DNS re-routes DNS queries to perform a trick and make streaming services believe you are somewhere else, a VPN does the hard work and diverts your data packets to a secure channel. Check out our article to see how it works.
Just like Smart DNS, a VPN is capable of unlocking media content from geo-restricted websites. However, not all VPN services are capable of doing this. And if they are, they might be doing a poor job since Netflix is continuously trying to tell apart VPN servers from real IP addresses to block them.
VPNs with optimized streaming servers and SmartDNS
Some VPNs have optimized servers for streaming, claiming to bring better speed and stability. But if the services continue to encrypt network traffic when connecting to a site like Netflix or BBC iPlayer, you might still face speed issues. It is unavoidable because encryption requires more processing power by design. In turn, it hurts the connection speed.
Nevertheless, some VPNs take a more intelligent approach and drop encryption when connecting you to media streaming services. ExpressVPN has MediaStreamer just for this purpose, which is a proprietary name for Smart DNS.
There are also other VPN services with an integrated Smart DNS feature, such as CactusVPN, PureVPN, StrongVPN, Smarty DNS, Invisible Browsing VPN (ibVPN), 12VPN, and HideIPVPN. If you enable SmartDNS, you automatically disable encryption (and vice versa).
The advantages of using VPN
- Hides your IP address and encrypts all data traffic.
- Conceals your browsing activity from your ISP, minimizes the risk of bandwidth throttling, and prevents third-party sites from collecting your data to create targeted ads.
- Protects your sensitive data from hackers when logging into streaming sites over public Wi-Fi, like pubs, restaurants, airports, or hotels.
- It is easy to install, configure, and connect to a VPN server. You can connect and disconnect with the click of a button.
- Most VPN services support several protocols. You can pick one that delivers better speed but weaker security (like PPTP) when connecting to streaming services.
- It comes with numerous servers from different countries so that you can explore a variety of IP addresses until you find one that works with your favorite streaming services and brings decent speed.
- Can be used for other purposes besides accessing streaming sites, like downloading illegal torrents or bypassing government censorship.
- If the VPN supports split tunneling, you can filter web traffic and configure a web browser to use the VPN for streaming. At the same time, you can cut off VPN traffic for a secondary browser so that you connect to the Internet directly and enjoy regular, unencrypted browsing. This way, it is possible to optimize the bandwidth and speed.
- If the VPN supports kill switch and leak protection modules, there will be no risks of accidentally exposing your IP address on sudden Internet disconnections.
- It can be installed at the router level to provide secure browsing to all devices connected to your Wi-Fi, even the ones without native VPN support.
- A VPN subscription can be used by multiple people at once, depending on the number of simultaneous connections supported by the service.
- Some VPN services come with their own Smart DNS feature so that you can easily toggle VPN (with encryption) and Smart DNS mode (without encryption).
The disadvantages of using VPN
- Internet connections are slower due to VPN encryption.
- Few VPNs work with streaming services like Netflix. It is because the site is monitoring virtual private network tools to block their servers.
- Not all VPNs that support streaming give you unrestricted access to all services and all Netflix libraries – it depends on the capabilities of each VPN provider.
- Free VPN services must be avoided as they are likely to compromise your privacy and fail with streaming sites.
- Configuring the VPN application to use a protocol with better speed and weaker security (like PPTP) can be disastrous since you risk compromising your safety.
- Premium VPN applications can be expensive, at least doubling the price of a Smart DNS tool.
- VPN technology is currently compatible with fewer devices than Smart DNS.
- Unless you are installing the VPN on the router or sharing the connection from your desktop to other nearby devices, it is necessary to set up the service on all your supported devices manually.
Combining Smart DNS and VPN
Keep in mind that VPN applications that feature custom DNS are not the same as those which have Smart DNS support. A custom DNS lets you add any DNS addresses. But the free ones are not effective against Netflix blocks.
Also, we have previously mentioned that VPN services with built-in Smart DNS turn off encryption when using Smart DNS, and vice versa. However, there is a workaround: by resorting to a VPN with split tunneling and using it with a separate Smart DNS service (although this means paying two subscriptions – VPN and Smart DNS).
You can register to the Smart DNS service with your real IP address, change the DNS settings to your computer, configure split tunneling in your VPN app to allow non-VPN traffic through a web browser, and make sure the VPN app uses your system’s DNS settings.
The browser with non-VPN traffic can be used for media streaming websites while another Internet navigator can be used for browsing the web via VPN. Work and watch movies at the same time.
Smart DNS vs VPN: Who is the winner
If you care about your online privacy and security, then you cannot overlook VPN services. They can not only hide your IP address but also encrypt your traffic – two feats that cannot be accomplished by Smart DNS. With a reliable VPN service, you can protect your online privacy, bypass government censorship, have secure confidential conversations, keep your data safe over open hotspots, and more.
Besides, some VPN applications have their own Smart DNS feature so that you can easily toggle between the two whenever you need to unlock streaming sites fast or take advantage of secure browsing. Check out our reviews for ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and CyberGhost VPN.
However, if you are only interested in unblocking streaming sites, then Smart DNS is the winner, without a doubt. It is cheaper, faster, incredibly easy to configure, and less likely to get blocked. Encryption is not required to unlock streaming services because it is not illegal – you simply get kicked out if you are caught. No encryption means better speed. Check out our reviews for Smart DNS Proxy, Unlocator and IronSocket for more info.
What are your preferences when it comes to streaming services? Drop us a line below.